In village after village, people said they had been brutalized by government troops. They described a widespread and longstanding reign of terror, with Ethiopian soldiers gang-raping women, burning down huts and killing civilians at will.
It is the same military that the American government helps train and equip — and provides with prized intelligence. The two nations have been allies for years, but recently they have grown especially close, teaming up last winter to oust an Islamic movement that controlled much of Somalia and rid the region of a potential terrorist threat.
The Bush administration, particularly the military, considers Ethiopia its best bet in the volatile Horn — which, with Sudan, Somalia and Eritrea, is fast becoming intensely violent, virulently anti-American and an incubator for terrorism...
“We’ve not only looked the other way but we’ve pushed them to intrude in other sovereign nations,” he added, referring to the satellite images and other strategic help the American military gave Ethiopia in December, when thousands of Ethiopian troops poured into Somalia and overthrew the Islamist leadership...
Its leaders, many whom were once rebels themselves, from a neglected patch of northern Ethiopia, are widely known as some of the savviest officials on the continent. They had promised to let some air into a very stultified political system during the national elections of 2005, which were billed as a milestone on the road to democracy.
Instead, they turned into Ethiopia’s version of Tiananmen Square. With the opposition poised to win a record number of seats in Parliament, the government cracked down brutally, opening fire on demonstrators, rounding up tens of thousands of opposition supporters and students and leveling charges of treason and even attempted to kill top opposition leaders, including the man elected mayor of Addis Ababa...
The armed resistance began in 1994, after the Ogaden National Liberation Front, then a political organization, broached the idea of splitting off from Ethiopia. The central government responded by imprisoning Ogadeni leaders, and according to academics and human rights groups, assassinating others. The Ogaden is part of the Somali National Regional State, one of nine ethnic-based states within Ethiopia’s unusual ethnic-based federal system. On paper, all states have the right to secede, if they follow the proper procedures. But it seemed that the government feared that if the Somalis broke away, so too would the Oromos, the Afar and many other ethnic groups pining for a country of their own.
The Ethiopian government calls the Ogaden rebels terrorists and says they are armed and trained by Eritrea, Ethiopia’s neighbor and bitter enemy. One of the reasons Ethiopia decided to invade Somalia was to prevent the rebels from using it as a base.
The government blames them for a string of recent bombings and assassinations and says they often single out rival clan members. Ethiopian officials have been pressuring the State Department to add the Ogaden National Liberation Front to its list of designated foreign terrorist organizations. Until recently, American officials refused, saying the rebels had not threatened civilians or American interests.
“But after the oil field attack in April,” said one American official who spoke on the condition of anonymity, “we are reassessing that.”...
Many Ogaden villagers said that when they tried to bring up abuses with clan chiefs or local authorities, they were told it was better to keep quiet.
The rebels said thats was precisely why they attacked the Chinese oil field: to get publicity for their cause and the plight of their region (and to discourage foreign companies from exploiting local resources). According to them, they strike freely in the Ogaden all the time, ambushing military convoys and raiding police stations.
Mr. Mohammed, the government spokesman, denied that, saying the rebels “will not confront Ethiopian military forces because they are not well trained.”
Expert or not, they are determined. They march for hours powered by a few handfuls of rice. They travel extremely light, carrying only their guns, two clips of bullets, a grenade and a tarp. They brag about how many Ethiopians they have killed, and every piece of their camouflage, they say, is pulled off dead soldiers. They joke about slaughtering Ethiopian troops the same way they slaughter goats.
Thursday, June 21, 2007
This is a terrific article from the Monday NY Times that I would have missed if it weren't for Truthout. Read. A cobbled summary: